February 26, 2013


 In the real world, the average life expectancy of a woman is significantly greater than that of a man.  In the world of opera, by contrast, the average life expectancy of a lead female character is, to put it mildly, less than modest.  If she does not succumb to a fashionable disease in the prime of her life (La Traviata, La Boheme), she can look forward to being stabbed, strangled, or poisoned by a jealous lover (Carmen, Wozzeck), husband (Otello, Il Tabarro, I Pagliacci, Violanta), brother (La forza del destino), or rival (Rigoletto, Adriana Lecouvreur).  On those rare occasions when the plot does not provide any of the already listed sources of early death, the soprano is expected to do the dark deed herself (La Gioconda, Madama Butterfly) or at least die of a broken heart brought about by sexual exploitation and emotional abuse in the hands of various men in her life (Manon Lescaut, Der Ferne Klang, Die Gezeichneten).  Even in operas with nominally optimistic endings the soprano may still meet with premature (and violent) death, if only as part of some lurid fantasy in the mind of the male protagonist (Die tote Stadt).